In response to their request for comments on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition penned a letter to the Special Assistant to the Administrator at the EPA Cam Davis and to the Director of the Great Lakes National Program Office Gary Gulezian. The letter expressed gratitude for the formation and enactment of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and it praised federal agencies for their work on the issue—but the letter also provides recommendations for improving the new funding program.
The coalition gives credit where it’s due: over the past two years, the EPA and Great Lakes National Program Office have streamlined and coordinated 15 different agencies and funding lines; wrote a federal plan on implementation of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Restoration Strategy; held 18 public meetings and solicited public feedback; created an RFP to award $120 million in restoration grants; coordinated and created 13 interagency agreements; initiated an accountability and reporting system; started talks to renegotiate the international Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement; and oversaw the Great Lakes Legacy Act. All in all—not a bad track record.
But, the coalition also sees room for improvement. Among the suggestions:
Increasing the amount of money going to on-the-ground restoration projects and reducing the amount going to research. The coalition recommends spending about 25 percent of restoration grants on research, instead of the current 32 percent.
Reducing the number of programs getting money from the EPA and other agencies. By doing this, the EPA will have more flexibility in awarding grants to a broader group of proposals.
Rethinking the decision to fund actions already required under laws such as the Clean Water Act. Great Lakes restoration funds should go to new activities and programs and not supplant old ones.
Increasing transparency about how Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding is being spent.
Developing a clearer strategy that targets specific geographic areas that are in the most need of restoration assistance.
The coalition has taken this approach in its new grant awards program. After significant research, the coalition is focusing its seed-grant program on projects in the St. Louis Bay and St. Louis River; Chicagoland; Saginaw Bay; Western Lake Erie; Eastern Lake Ontario.